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technical ethical dilemma

Why you want to think twice before using viral AI portrait app Lensa

Lensa AI, a photo editing app launched in 2018, became a viral sensation last month after launching its "magic avatars" feature. The app's popularity has flooded social media timelines with AI-generated portraits, but critics are raising concerns over privacy and ethics, NBC News reports. 

The app's newest feature allows users to upload ten or more images to be reimagined into various art styles. Lensa AI technology utilizes neural network Stable Diffusion to create 50 unique portraits, which users can download for $7.99. The virality of the portraits helped the app reach the top of the iOS App Store's "Photo & Video" category earlier this month

The app's rapid growth has reignited debate over the ethics of mass-producing images using technology trained on artists' original work. Several artists have accused the company of using their work without permission. Others say that cheap mass production of imitated images undermines the work of artists who spend years refining their art style. 

Prisma, the company behind Lensa AI, addressed concerns in a recent Twitter thread. The company wrote that AI-generated images "can't be described as exact replicas of any particular artwork," but did not refute claims that it used art without artists' permission.

Others have expressed concerns over the company's use of the photos, as the app requires permission to use uploaded images for "operating or improving Lensa" without compensation. Prisma Labs told TechCrunch that the company deletes the images users upload from the cloud services after using them to train its AI. Even so, "the fact that Lensa uses user content to further train its AI model," perhaps with little awareness from users, writes NBC, "should alarm the public."